Toshiba unveils latest HD DVD recorder

Toshiba is tuning up the heat on the Blu-ray Disc camp going into the year-end holidays with the launch of a HD DVD recorder that can record high-def to DVDs.

As the holiday shopping season approaches, Toshiba is turning up the heat on the Blu-ray Disc camp with the launch of an HD DVD recorder that can record high-definition video to regular DVDs.

The Vardia RD-A301 will hit Japan in mid-December and can also transcode high-definition MPEG2 broadcasts on the fly to the more efficient MPEG4 compression format. MPEG4 video takes up less space, so more can be stored on an HD DVD disc or on the unit's built-in 300G-byte hard-disk drive.

The increase in recording capacity through the transcoding is impressive: hard disk capacity jumps from 39 hours to 159 hours for terrestrial digital TV (Japanese ISDB-T standard at 17M bps).

Recording high-def video to commodity DVD discs is possible thanks to HD Rec, a recently standardized format from the DVD Forum. HD Rec allows up to 2 hours of transcoded high-def video to be stored on a 4.7G-byte DVD-R disc.

Blank HD DVD discs are still expensive, so the ability to use DVD discs could mean big cost savings for consumers who have a lot of content that they want to put on optical disc.

However, playback of the DVD discs is limited to the RD-A301 at present. There are no other machines -- HD DVD or DVD -- that are currently compatible with HD Rec. That's likely to change over time, but quite how fast is unclear. Supporters of the rival Blu-ray Disc format have their own system, called AVC Rec which is, of course, incompatible with HD Rec.

Other features of the machine include the ability to record two video streams at once through the recorder's dual tuners.

Toshiba estimates that the RD-A301 will go on sale for under US$875. It will be available in Japan only.

To coincide with its launch, Toshiba will offer consumers who buy the RD-A301 a copy of the hit movie "Transformers," five blank HD DVD-R and DVD-R discs, and a "Transformers" action figure.

Paramount Pictures, the studio behind "Transformers," claimed HD DVD sales of 190,000 copies of the movie in its first week on sale. That makes it the fastest-selling movie yet released on either of the high-definition formats, according to the company.

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Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
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